It seems everyone is “coming out” anymore, from celebrities to politicians to teenagers across the nation. More and more, it is becoming acceptable to be “out”. But what does coming out really entail, and what are the consequences?
What does it mean to “come out”?
To “come out”, or “come out of the closet” means to stop hiding who you are. It means to be honest with yourself and with others as to your sexual orientation and who you are dating. It doesn’t mean that you share your intimate bedroom details with the world. Rather, it means that you will finally live with integrity.
Coming out may mean facing lies you’ve told yourself about who you and what you want out of life. Sometimes we tie in other false assumptions about ourselves in order to keep the lie entangled within us. Coming out is a liberating process. Many people (myself included) have found that their truest personality did not reveal itself until they came out; they found that they weren’t truly happy until they were honest with themselves and everyone else.
Is NOW the right time to come out
Before we go further, I need to stress this very, very carefully:
Now may not be the right time to come out.
If you are still living with your parents and have no other resources, do not come out until you’ve secured outside help, up to and including a place to live. Many teens who get kicked out end up homeless and sometimes end up in the hands of human traffickers. I do not wish this on anyone, and so proper precautions must always be taken to ensure your own safety first.
Also, if you are in the middle of a custody battle or have an ex that will likely take your children away from you for any reason, secure yourself a lawyer and some good character witnesses before you consider coming out. There are very few protections for LGBT individuals in some communities.
Let me stress this again: You may not receive the response you hope, even if you ”think” the person you are coming out to is open about other things. Know that it isn’t as much about you as it is about them.
It’s a Process
Coming out isn’t some one-time thing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from detractors, “Well, they said they were straight 5 years ago and all of a sudden they’re gay?” They don’t understand that coming out is a long process. It starts before we even understand that what we feel has anything to do with sexual and gender orientation. In my case, I had inklings about myself as young as 12, but didn’t really come out until 24 or so. Some people never come out of the closet, including some of the most hateful and anti-gay politicians out there.
You must accept yourself as non-heterosexual before you can come out. You need to be comfortable with yourself at least somewhat, or you risk being torn down at the first sign of backlash. It’s very easy to stay in the closet, and sometimes it’s the safest. Come out when you are ready, but only when you are ready.
Now, I agree with others who say that the more who come out, the better it is for the LGBT movement. Absolutely. The problem is, the older generation isn’t accepting LGBT individuals like the younger generation is, and this can cause problems. Teens who come out to conservative parents can face harsh backlash and may commit suicide. Individuals who decide to be out in an area that has very few rights for LGBT citizens face real ramifications for coming out.
What to Think About Before Coming Out
I’m going to be frank: I will never say that coming out is easy. I will always recommend that individuals accept the worst case scenarios before they come out, so that the actual ramifications are prepared for.
Your family may not accept this new version of you. If you are lucky, they may. Often times parents have to deal with their own “coming out’ as a parent of an LGBT child. I cannot recommend PFLAG enough as a resource for parents. I would recommend obtaining PFLAG information to give to your parents before you come out, especially if you are younger and dependent on your parents or caregivers. Friends may not accept the new you and may hide behind preexisting beliefs. Be prepared to meet new people who DO support you as you become your true self.
- At School
University students shouldn’t have so many problems, although bullying happens everywhere. Kids and teens may face bullying and name-calling. There are organizations that can come to your school if help is needed to make the atmosphere more lgbt-friendly.
Religion and non-heterosexuality is very difficult. Depending on your religion, there may be no way to reconcile identifying as LGBT and practicing your faith. This also depends on your location. For example, an American in Los Angeles, California will have a different experience than an American in Mississippi. There are LGBT resources for all faiths.
Please know that many US states do not have protections in place for LGBT individuals in the workplace, and you can be fired because of your sexual orientation without recourse.
- In the Military
Since the US repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in (XXXX), US servicemembers are free to serve openly if they desire.
Bisexuals and Transsexuals have issues all their own. Life isn’t as cut and dry for those of us who don’t fit into a black-or-white label.
Come out as an LGBT Ally
LGBT allies have their own time to “come out”. There are currently no protections for those who are related to or stand up for LGBT rights. LGBT allies may face bullying and loss of friends and family if they choose to “come out” as an ally. The LGBT community needs allies to stand up, but our allies need to be aware that the hate that is directed at LGBT people may also be directed at them.
Have comments or suggestions about coming out? Want to share your coming out story? Head on over to the forum and let’s discuss!
Lynn Marie Wilson
Gay Lesbian Editor @ Bella Online